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12 posts from November 2017

Building a Better World Through Design: Protothon and EY

November 29, 2017

Keep calm and get hackingRecently, more than eighty design-oriented and engineering students from ten different universities as well as professionals from across New York City spent fifteen hours over two days at the NYU Media and Gaming Network (MAGNET) facilities in Brooklyn for the first-ever "Prototyping Hackathon" (ProtothonTM). Sponsored by Ernst & Young LLP (EY), the theme of the inaugural Protothon was disaster relief.

In the U.S. alone, the first nine months of 2017 brought fifteen disasters claiming a total of 323 American lives and costing $1 billion or more each. These figures do not include the devastation Mexico suffered from a recent earthquake and the extensive damage storms have inflicted across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the aftermath of major disasters like the ones we saw in 2017, nonprofit organizations, companies, and individuals are eager to extend a helping hand, either by donating money in support of relief and recovery efforts or by applying their core competencies to the situation in innovative ways.  

"Design can save lives," said Domenick Propati, founder of Protothon and an NYU professor. "This Protothon will showcase that premise as teams develop impactful and actionable solutions that can be carried forward to help those impacted by natural disasters."

Participating students sat in on a panel with three people who have worked in different aspects of disaster relief and recovery efforts, attended a UX design workshop, and then broke into teams and spent ten intense hours working to develop innovative and sustainable solutions that addressed one of the many disaster-related challenges voiced by the panel. While the final presentations featured prototypes of the solutions, they all had seen numerous iterations and improvements throughout the day — with feedback from experts in design, disaster relief, and solutions development.

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[Review] 'Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector'

November 28, 2017

The nonprofit sector has never faced more difficult challenges — or had the potential to create greater impact — than it does today, argue William F. Meehan III, director emeritus of McKinsey & Company, and Kim Starkey Jonker, president and CEO of King Philanthropies, in their new book, Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector. But for nonprofits — by 2025 projected to need up to $300 billion more annually beyond currently expected revenues in order to meet demand — to benefit from the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in U.S. history (an estimated $59 trillion expected to change hands between 2007 and 2061), they will have to "earn the right to expand [their] role and maximize [their] impact" in what Meehan and Jonker refer to as the coming "Impact Era."

Book_engine_of_impact_3dDrawing on a number of surveys, including the 2016 Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector; a variety of Stanford Social Innovation Review articles, business and nonprofit management books, and Meehan's course on nonprofit leadership at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; and Jonker's experience overseeing the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Nonprofit LeadershipEngine of Impact outlines the challenges nonprofits currently face — lack of impact data, transparency, and sustainable operational support; donors' tendency to give impulsively to well-known organizations rather than high-impact ones; ineffective boards — and then explores a number of tools that nonprofits can use to address those challenges. They do not include venture philanthropy or impact investments, which Meehan and Jonker, somewhat "controversially," are skeptical of. Instead, they urge nonprofits to embrace the "essentials of strategic leadership" — mission, strategy, impact evaluation, insight and courage, funding, talent/organization, and board governance — which, when brought together thoughtfully and intentionally, create an engine of impact that drives organizational success.

Quoting liberally from business management expert Peter Drucker, Ashoka founder Bill Drayton (an early mentor of Meehan's), Good to Great author Jim Collins, and other luminaries, the authors illustrate each component of strategic leadership with concrete examples often drawn from the work of Kravis Prize winners such as the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), BRACLandesa, and Helen Keller International. And while they concede that some of them may be obvious, they are quick to note, based on survey results, that they are not all well understood or effectively implemented.

They emphasize, for example, the importance of a well-crafted mission statement, and caution organizations against mission creep, even if avoiding the latter means saying no to a new funding source. Indeed, saying "no" seems to be a critical part of strategic leadership, in that the urgent need to achieve maximum impact in a time of enormous challenges and limited resources is too important for nonprofit leaders to be distracted by non-mission-aligned activities — or by debates over semantics (e.g., "theory of change" vs. "logic model"): "if you ever find yourself caught in a debate about these terms' usage," Meehan and Jonkers write, "we suggest you leave the room immediately. We do."

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 25-26, 2017)

November 26, 2017

Giving-TuesdayOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Giving

In the Bangor Daily News, Chris Gates, former president of the National Civic League and executive director of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement, argues that the House Republican plan to eliminate the estate tax "would hurt [the] country, and the people of Maine, in significant ways" — with charitable giving all but certain to be one of the biggest casualties.

Which state is the most generous? And which is the least? Mona Chalabi, data editor at the Guardian USand a columnist at New York magazine, has a state-by-state breakdown on the FiveThirtyEight site, for which she was previously a lead news writer.

Health

Here on PhilanTopic, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Karabi Acharya shares some of the ways the foundation scours the globe for ideas with the potential to improve health and health care in the U.S.

International Affairs/Development

Yemen is on the brink of a terrible famine. Amanda Erickson reports for the Washington Post.

"[W]ithout the ability to conduct accurate, timely, and robust progress measurement," efforts "to advance human health and development...and the SDGs have an unaddressed Achilles heel," writes Philip Setel on the Devex site. But there is a way forward, says Setel. Because of technological advancements in data collection and processing, and a landmark investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the government of Australia, "for the first time in history it may be possible to count every human life and make the invisible visible."

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther reports on the efforts of Village Enterprises, a small NGO headquartered in San Carlos, California, to fight poverty in East Africa with something called results-based financing.

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[Review] 'Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors Are Revolutionizing Giving'

November 21, 2017

A new generation of donors is expected to inherit an estimated $59 trillion dollars by 2061 and to allocate almost half that sum to charitable causes. In addition to this unprecedented transfer of wealth, there are also a growing number of next-generation donors who have earned their own fortunes at a relatively young age and are currently, or will soon be, engaged in philanthropy in a significant way.  

Gen-impact-book-1In Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors Are Revolutionizing Giving, authors Sharna Goldseker and Michael Moody set out to illuminate the "collective mindset" of this emerging cohort of Gen X and millennial philanthropists, who, as a result of almost unprecedented wealth creation and concentration, are ushering in a "golden age of giving" marked not only by significantly more financial resources available for charitable causes than in the past but by dramatic shifts in the traditional norms of philanthropy. These shifts are the impetus for Goldseker and Moody's book; through interviews and surveys with hundreds of younger philanthropists, as well as first-person accounts from thirteen next-gen donors, they aim to help the social sector understand who these next-generation donors are, how they're giving, and how they're likely to approach change-making efforts in the years to come.  

The authors call these next-gen donors "Generation Impact" because they're hyper-focused on seeing the needle actually move with respect to the various issues they are passionate about. Many want to understand an organization's theory of change; others are eager to go on site visits to see the impact created by their support, while still others want to review hard data that shows the success (or lack thereof) of a program or organization. This focus on results also goes hand-in-hand with a desire to not just fund organizations, but to invest their own time and talent in causes that are important to them. That can take many forms, from volunteering with an organization before becoming engaged as a donor, to connecting with the beneficiaries of a program that they're thinking about funding, to lending their skills and expertise to organizations in addition to (or instead of) writing a check. "Experiencing it with your own hands and eyes is a must," one donor tells Goldseker and Moody.  

Many of these next-gen donors also are beginning their engagement with philanthropy at a relatively young age and will continue giving throughout their lives; as a result, they strive to bring their full selves to their philanthropic endeavors instead of merely viewing charitable giving as an add-on to their professional and personal lives. As one donor puts it: "Philanthropy is not just something that you do; it is very much a part of who you are."  

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Learning From Abroad: Philanthropy’s Role in Spreading Social Innovation

November 20, 2017

Four_idea_lightbulbsDid you know the toothbrush was first invented in China, or that the idea for kindergarten originated in Germany? The United States has benefited from great ideas from other countries for years. As grantmakers — whether a national philanthropy or a local funder — we can learn so much by embracing the notion that good ideas have no borders.

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), I direct an effort explicitly tasked with searching the globe for ideas with the potential to improve health and health care in the U.S. And as the foundation continues on its ambitious journey to build a national Culture of Health, my colleagues and I are casting a wide net with our own learning efforts to bring the best ideas and solutions forward.

Finding promising ideas from abroad isn't always easy. It requires time and commitment. Making global ideas accessible and adaptable so that the communities we serve can implement them successfully can be challenging. But I am optimistic. Our efforts to learn from abroad have led us to the work of many organizations and experts who are advancing ideas in areas as diverse as creating a new workforce to support frail elders, building new partnerships to disrupt community violence, and bringing disengaged youth back into the fold.

Our journey also has led us to efforts like ChangeX that are laser-focused on transforming communities with great ideas and social innovations.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 18-19, 2017)

November 19, 2017

Say no to sexual harassmentOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

"In a world where there is 'an avalanche of crazy things coming out of the [current] administration', communications professionals find themselves having to rethink how they communicate both internally and externally," writes Jason Tomassini, associate director for editorial at Atlantic Media Strategies, on the Communications Network site. At the recent ComNet17 conference, Tomassini and the network invited attendees to participate in a discussion about how they're navigating communications challenges in the current political environment. Here are four key takeaways from that discussion.

Disaster Relief

The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, the fund created by Houston mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County judge Ed Emmett, has announced a second round of grants totaling $28.9 million to nintey nonprofits. The Houston Chronicle's Mike Morris has the details.

Giving

Although the giving traditions of the Rockefeller family were established almost a hundred and fifty years ago, writes Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisor's Melissa Blackerby, modern philanthropists can still learn from the family's values and example.

Gun Violence

In the HuffPost, Melissa Jeltsen and Sarah Ruiz-Grossman use data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety to argue that most mass shootings in America are related to domestic violence.

Higher Education

The dueling Republican tax bills working their way through Congress have implications for exempt sectors of the economy that could fundamentally change the way they operate. In this Weekend Edition segment, NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa with a large endowment, about the Republican proposal to levy an excise tax on endowment income.

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Endowments Look to Total-Return Approach Amid Low Rates

November 16, 2017

Absolute-returnThe extended low-rate environment has had a considerable impact on almost all institutional investors, but perhaps none more so than endowments and foundations, which often struggle with distribution requirements and spending needs in excess of realized returns. A recent NACUBO-Commonfund benchmarking study found that endowments produced average returns of -1.9 percent in 2016. And while performance has improved significantly in 2017, in an era in which interest rates are near historic lows and yield remains difficult to find, endowments and foundations are rethinking whether they should adopt a "total return" approach as part of their underlying investment strategies.

A survey and accompanying white paper published earlier this year by Fiduciary Trust Company and Associated Grant Makers demonstrated the extent to which the low-rate environment is affecting nonprofits across nearly all traditional activities — from spending and grantmaking to fundraising and board governance. Among the fundraising institutions polled, for instance, an overwhelming majority (over 80 percent) have stepped up their fundraising efforts, while more than two out of every five grantmaking institutions have reduced their grantmaking activities or are weighing such a decision. Moreover, nearly half of the public charities responding to the survey said they had considered reducing or have reduced spending. To be sure, such tactics can help bridge the gap during periods in which returns suffer, but at what expense to the charitable or grantmaking missions of the organizations in question? And then there's the fact that a significant number of respondents, roughly one in five, have broadened their investment universe to allow for riskier investments in pursuit of higher returns, in many cases (we assume) without proper regard for downside risks.

Thanks in part to the pressures that accompany a low-rate environment, the value of a "total return" approach has again come to the fore. According to the same survey, half of the more than two hundred and thirty respondents indicated that their organizations have either already adopted a total-return approach or are considering such a move. Total-return strategies can come with short-term risks, but broadly diversified portfolios generally offer reduced volatility from year to year and, as a result, provide institutional investors with more control, consistency, and visibility as it relates to their distributions and related planning.

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The Worst Tax Reform That Money Can Buy

November 15, 2017

Tax-reformCharities and foundations are lucky. Often their self-interest and the public interest seem to be in conflict. But not this month, thanks to Congressional Republican efforts to "reform" the U.S. tax system.

In simple terms, the Republican plan is an effort to transfer more than $1.5 trillion from public purposes, government, and charities in order to further enrich already fantastically wealthy individuals and corporations. Under both the House and Senate plans, far less of the proposed cuts would benefit middle-class folks — many of whom would actually end up paying more in taxes. And even if Republican leaders' hopes to finance their scheme through cuts to Medicare and Medicaid fail, many of the other so-called reforms would profoundly hamstring our nation's ability to address critical social needs.

It's the same old class warfare that Republicans have promoted since the days of Ronald Reagan, and it must be opposed for the sake of both the nonprofit sector and the people and causes who rely and depend on the sector.

As detailed elsewhere, standard deduction provisions alone would cost charities more than $13 billion in donations each year. Changes in the estate tax, which the House proposes to eliminate and the Senate would reform by doubling the exempt amount, would also have a devastating impact. When the tax was suspended for a year in 2010, bequests dropped by over a third; full repeal would cost the Treasury $270 billion over a decade that might otherwise fund critical needs across America. Yet the Republican proposals allow the top one-fifth of one-percent, the very wealthiest 00.2 percent of Americans, to keep that money, even though most of it has never been and never would be taxed.

Simply put, the various tax policies being pushed in both the House and Senate would significantly cut charitable donations and otherwise harm nonprofits in order to finance giveaways to Americans who already hold a disproportionate share of the nation's wealth.

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Philanthropy and Conflict Transformation

November 13, 2017

Conflict_transformationCarnage on the streets of New York, London, and Paris has taught us that anyone can be affected by violent conflict. In an interconnected world, borders mean little and war spreads easily. Such attacks, where anyone can become a victim, have their roots in deeper social problems.

Violent conflict brings death, lost homes, displaced persons, and spoiled lives. It costs money, too. The Global Peace Index estimates the 2017 cost of violence across the world at $14.3 trillion (or 12.6 percent of global GDP).

The response of philanthropy to these problems has historically been modest. According to the Peace and Security Funding Index, 290 U.S. foundations gave $357 million in 2014 (the latest date for which figures are available). The mismatch between the scale of the problem and the size of resources stimulated discussion at a workshop organized by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), Foundation Center, and Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE) on October 30. Some forty-five funders, peace organizations, NGOs, and think tanks concluded that there was a need to learn from each other and to join up the field.

Jean Marc Rickli from GCSP gave a lightning tour of recent conflicts across the world. A few high-intensity armed conflicts are causing large numbers of civilian casualties. Elsewhere, progress promoting peace and justice, together with effective, accountable and inclusive institutions, remains uneven across and within regions. Over the past thirty years, the face of violent conflict has changed markedly. Rather than standoffs between states, conflict is more likely to be based on asymmetrical power relations. Conflicts have become more scattered over a wider area and are driven by nationalism or differences in ideology.

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Spoiler Alert: It’s Not All About Fundraising

November 07, 2017

Spoiler-alertAs a nonprofit leader, you'll be delighted to learn that new research affirms what most of us knew: Americans are generous. In fact, this year’s edition of Giving USA found that charitable giving by individuals in the U.S. was up nearly 4 percent in 2016, hitting an all-time high.

But as The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes in How America Gives, a recently released analysis of American giving patterns, these gifts are coming from fewer people. In 2015, the Chronicle notes,

only 24 percent of taxpayers reported a charitable gift....That’s down from 2000 to 2006, years when that figure routinely reached 30 or 31 percent....

While the Chronicle suggests the drop off could be due to a decrease in the number of Americans itemizing deductions on their tax returns, they also point to other possibilities: the lingering after effects of the Great Recession, an increase in the number of struggling middle-class families, more competition for fewer dollars.

And then there's the millennial factor. The generation born between 1980 and 2000 is the largest in American history, and as the Chronicle notes, "it's well known that [millennials] aren't embracing traditional ideas of giving."

It's a trend that's reflected in our own research. Indeed, Phase 2 of our 2017 Millennial Impact Report found that the millennial generation doesn't rank giving — or volunteering — as all that meaningful in terms of effecting change. In the study, survey respondents were asked to rank their typical cause/social issue-related behaviors in order of how influential they believed each to be. Out of ten actions, volunteering for a cause or organization ranked sixth while giving ranked eighth — well behind other actions such as signing a petition, attending a march or rally, voting, or taking to social media to share one's views.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 4-5, 2017)

November 05, 2017

Article-flanagan1-1105Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Can you hear me now? From Reuters: "The amount of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere grew...in 2016 to a level not seen for millions of years...." 

Giving

Do the wealthy "need" to give?  Do they give to make the world a better place, to give back to the community? Or is their charity motivated by reasons that are far less noble — peer pressure, social status, a version of conspicuous consumption? On the Foundation for Independent Journalism's Wire site, Jacob Burak explores the varied and complex motivations that drive charitable giving.

Heathcare

Open enrollment season for the Affordable Care Act opened November 1 and, this year, runs only through December 15. The Aspen Institute's Natalie Foster explains why, as the nature of work continues to change, the viability and success of the Affordable Care Act is increasingly important.

Here on PhilanTopic, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement's Shawn Dove and Phyllis Hubbard make the important point that people who do this kind of work also need to be sure to take care of themselves.

International Affairs/Development

On the WINGS blog, Debasish Mitter, India country director for the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, notes that while "the nature and extent of development problems... have changed over the years... [p]hilanthropy has been changing and evolving, too," before listing half a dozen ways in which philanthropy is changing its approach to development work.

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How to Keep Me Scrolling Through What You Are Sharing

November 02, 2017

Hello, my name is Tom and I am a Subscriber. And a Tweeter, a Follower, a Forwarder (FYI!), a Google Searcher, and a DropBox Hoarder. I subscribe to blogs, feeds, e-newsletters, and email updates. My professional title includes the word "knowledge," so I feel compelled to make sure I'm keeping track of the high volume of data, information, reports, and ideas flowing through the nonprofit and foundation worlds (yes, it is a bit of a compulsion…and I'm not even including my favorite travel, shopping, and coupon alerts).

It's a lot, and I confess I don't read all of it. It's a form of meditation, I guess, for me to scroll through emails and Twitter feeds while waiting in line at Aloha Salads. I skim, I save, I forward, I retweet, I copy and save for later reading (later when?). In fact, no one can be expected to keep up, so how does anyone make sense of it all, or even find what we need when we need it? Everyone being #OpenForGood and sharing everything is great, but who's reading it all? And how do we make what we're opening up for good actually good?

Making Knowledge Usable

At some point, we've all battled Drowning in Information-Starving for Knowledge syndrome (from John Naisbitt's Megatrends — though I prefer E.O. Wilson's "starving for wisdom" theory). The information may be out there, but it rarely exists in a form that is easily found, read, understood, and (most importantly) usedFoundation Center and IssueLab have made it easier for people in the sector to know what is being funded, where new ideas are being tested, and what evidence and lessons are available. But to really succeed, nonprofits and foundations will have to upload and share many more of their documents than they do now. And we need to make sure that the information we share is readable, usable, and easy to apply.

1-2-3-reporting-model

DataViz guru Stephanie Evergreen recently taught me a new hashtag: #TLDR – "Too Long, Didn't Read."

Evergreen proposes that every published report be available in three formats — a one-page handout with key messages, a three-page executive summary, and a 25-page report (plus appendices). That way,  "scanners," "skimmers," and "deep divers" can access the information in the form they prefer and in the time that's available to them. Such an approach also requires writing (and formatting) differently for each of these different audiences. (By the way, do you know which one you are?)

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